After eleven months, Ramadan is here once again. For those of us who are still alive, this is yet another opportunity to take stock of our past performances as a Muslim; and for the future, a resolve to do better than before.
Some features of Ramadan automatically create an environment for this self-examination. For instance, the fasting of this month is directly linked with patience. Patience in abstaining from physical needs, especially food; patience in controlling our tongue and aggressive demeanour in our behaviour; and above all, patience in our thoughts that relate to scheming and planning our reactions to the people around us. Allah knows what we say. He knows what we do. He knows what we think. Many things in our thoughts, words and deeds are wrong – sometimes dreadfully wrong.
But Allah, who is as-Sabur, the supremely Patient, does not bring down His justice or His verdict or His punishment then and there, although no one can stop Him from doing so. As our Guardian (al-Wakil), He loves us, because He is ar-Rahman and ar-Rahim and al-Wadud. So He gives us enough time and opportunity in order that we may mend our ways. More than that, He wants us to become abdus Sabur, i.e. the servant of as-Sabur, or the prototype of as-Sabur; one who is immensely patient with fellow-beings; who overlooks and forgives ordinariness in people’s conduct; and who maintains refined standards of decency, politeness and humility with a conscious sense of gallantry.
Another feature of Ramadan is that it is particularly noted for charity. The austere practices that are the hallmark of fasting, naturally prepare and incline our hearts towards charitable deeds. We are easily disposed to share our good fortune with those who are not as fortunate. Many Muslims take out their compulsory Zakat during this month for extra blessings. We show our affection to our friends and young ones by giving them gifts. That too is part of sharing our wealth with our dear ones. The opposite of this sentiment is the use of money to influence those in high positions, in order to deprive other people of their rights and wealth (Sura Baqara, 2:186). Ramadan paves the way to the understanding and rejection of all forms of bribery, which is an obvious negation or antithesis of the spirit of charity in the use of the bounties given to us by Allah.
Yet another feature of Ramadan is that during this month Satan is kept in chains. This may mean two things: one, that Satan cannot make any more mischief during this month; and two, a Muslim must weed out the mischief that Satan has already planted in him or her. It is recorded in Sura A’raf (7:12) that Satan refused to pay obeisance to Adam (a) despite Allah’s command to do so, and in his reason, he said: Ana khayrum minho, i.e. I am better than him. This is the root of all evil including arrogance, haughtiness and oppression. From the days of the sons of Adam to date, this sentiment has torn mankind apart. From petty jealousies between individuals, to every belligerent attitude, right up to warfare between nations, the prime mover is I am better than him. People distinguish themselves over others because they are stronger, they are more beautiful, they have fairer skin, they are taller, they have an aristocratic pedigree, they possess goodly wealth, they speak a certain language, or they belong to a clever country. It means, in their conceit they never miss an opportunity to oppress one who is weak, less beautiful, dark in skin, shorter in height, born of a less than average family, suffers from chronic poverty, speaks pedestrian language, or comes from a nondescript country.
In any of these comparisons, an individual may fancy himself to be more agreeable than others. Even if there is some truth in his superiority, it is not desirable that he should be rubbing in the inadequacy of other people. On the other hand, if his superiority is a myth, then that will certainly take him on the path of grave injustice. As a matter of fact, race, colour, country or language do not make anyone superior to others. Allah says: Inna akramakum indal-Lahe atqakum, i.e. the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (one who is) the most righteous of you (Sura Hujurat, 49:13). In his Farewell Hajj sermon, the Prophet (s) did emphasize that, when he said: “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor has a non-Arab any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white; except by piety and good conduct; all mankind is from Adam and Adam is from clay.”
In this connection we may mention the elevated rank of Bilal (r) in the eyes of Allah and His Messenger (s). Before Islam, his life was worth less than the sand of the desert, because of two unenviable disqualifications – he was black, and he was a slave. After Islam? Well, one may wonder, how many Muslims are worth the dust of his feet. True to his word, the Prophet (s) chose Zayd ibn Harithah (r), his onetime slave, to lead an expedition to Mutah, ahead of his own cousin Jafar ibn Abi Talib (r), and Abdullah ibn Rawahah (r), a noble of Madinah. The two followed Zayd as his deputies. Similarly, the last expedition that the Prophet (s) sent out was led by Zayd’s son Usama (r), who as a mere youth headed an army that comprised of nobles and many vastly experienced men.
In the early history of Islam, the tradition of capable slaves rising to the position of Sultans was not uncommon in India and other parts of the Muslim world. By the same token however, it is sad to note that the Persian Muslims, proud as they were of their cultural superiority, never stopped grudging the ‘Bedouin’ Arabs The only exception to their malice were some of the direct descendants of the Prophet (s). Their resentment led them to fabricate doctrines around these noble descendants – doctrines, that were at loggerheads with the orthodox teachings of Islam, and created great schism in the body politic of the Muslim Ummah. At later times, whenever they got the opportunity, they formed their own dynasties in defiance of the central institution of the Caliphate. However, with the dismantling of the Caliphate, and the concomitant introduction of nationalism by the scheming West, the sentiment of I am better than him has become a vicious sickness among all Muslims regardless. They can now be seen committing excesses at all levels of life – family, social, economic, political and international.
With the pursuit of material comfort, remembrance (zikr) of Allah has gone out of our thoughts; likewise, with the cultivation of I am better than him, fear of Allah (taqwa) has departed from us. In our actions (i.e. thoughts, words and deeds), our central aim is to prove that I am better than him. We must learn to disregard the need to impose our false merit on our folks. We must understand that our ranks in the sight of Allah are directly proportionate to the piety and purity we achieve. The need for anything else is a mirage, which is bound to lead us to our doom. In the fasting of Ramadan, not only do we forego the need for food, we must also give up the need to give them a piece of our mind. That is the way we can free ourselves completely from the need to react to what we perceive in the attitude of people around us – regardless of whether what we see is a truth or a myth. As far as mortal human beings are concerned, this is the essence of Samadiyyat. Indeed Allah alone is as-Samad, i.e. absolutely free from all needs. Within the constraints of human life, we human beings can only become abdus Samad, i.e. the servant of as-Samad. Ramadan is the training ground for that lofty goal. Ramadan is the best opportunity to cure the sickness of I am better than him – the sickness that is the identity of Satan.
(June 29, 2014)
Muhammad Alamgir was born in Kolkata. He retired in 1996 as an IT professional, and has since translated Muhammad in the Hindu Scriptures from Bangla to English, Kitab al-Hikam from English to Bangla, Muhammad, Seal of the Prophets from Bangla to English, Minhajul Qur’an from Urdu to English, and Globalization of Fundamentalism from Bangla to English.
In his student life, Muhammad Alamgir was trained in theology, comparative religion and spiritual discipline by Shaykh Fadlur Rahman Ansari (may Allah be merciful with him) of Karachi, Pakistan, under whose guidance he studied Philosophy and Social Sciences at the Karachi University. In 1974, he migrated to Australia, where he has lived and worked for most of the time since.